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Universal Primary Education

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Title: Universal Primary Education  
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Subject: Primary education, Education, Education in Lower Dir District, Global Partnership for Education, Education in Panama
Collection: Millennium Development Goals, Primary Education
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Universal Primary Education

The second goal in the United Nations Millennium Development Goal is to achieve Universal Primary Education, more specifically, to “ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling." Currently, there are more than 100 million children around the world of primary school age who are not in school. The majority of these children are in regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and within these countries, girls are at the greatest disadvantage in receiving access to education at the primary school age. Since the Millennium Development Goals were launched, many developing countries, such as China, Chile, Cuba, Singapore and Sri Lanka, have successfully completed a campaign towards universal primary education.


  • Achieving Universal Primary Education 1
  • Factors contributing to lack of access and poor attendance 2
    • Location (climate) 2.1
    • Gender 2.2
    • Cost 2.3
    • Language 2.4
  • Education and global health 3
  • School feeding programs 4
  • Current Efforts 5
    • Global Campaign for Education 5.1
    • Right to Education Project, 5.2
    • UNICEF 5.3
    • Oxfam International 5.4
    • Save the Children 5.5
    • Peace Corps 5.6
    • United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization 5.7
    • World Bank 5.8
    • Child Aid 5.9
    • World Food Program 5.10
    • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 5.11
    • Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) 5.12
    • Fast Track Initiative (FTI) 5.13
    • Building Tomorrow 5.14
    • Education in Cambodia 5.15
  • In the United States 6
    • Teach for America 6.1
    • Our Education 6.2
    • Breakthrough Collaborative 6.3
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Achieving Universal Primary Education

There has been great progress achieved since 1999 in the achievement of the millennium development goal (MDG). UNESCO has found that:[1]

  • number of children enrolled in primary schools worldwide rose by more than 40 million between 1999 and 2007
  • net primary enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 58% to 74% over the same period
  • international aid commitments to basic education almost doubled from $2.1 billion in 2002 to $4.1 billion in 2007

However, despite all these important achievements, the world is currently not on course to achieve its target of universal primary education (UPE) by 2015. Currently, 120 million children could still be out of school in 2015 and girls will still lag behind boys in school enrollment and attendance.[1] Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly affected as over a quarter of its children of primary school age were out of school in 2007. It is estimated that there is a $16.2 billion annual external financing gap between available domestic resources and what is needed to achieve the basic education goals in low income countries, with current aid levels addressing only 15% of that gap and resources are all too often not provided to those countries who need it most and the amounts pledged not fully honored.[1] Difficulties faced by donors in the sphere of achieving UPE, highlighted by researchers at the Overseas Development Institute, include:

  • failings in aid architecture (though the Paris Declaration and FTI initiatives represent significant improvements)
  • the evidence-based case for further investment in basic education has not been made strongly enough
  • recipient governments are reluctant to borrow funds for the recurrent costs education entails.

Factors contributing to lack of access and poor attendance

Location (climate)

Location contributes to a child’s lack of access and attendance to primary education. In certain areas of the world it is more difficult for children to get to school. For example; in high-altitude areas of India, severe weather conditions for more than 7 months of the year make school attendance erratic and force children to remain at home (Postiglione).

In these remote locations, insufficient school funds contribute to low attendance rates by creating undesirable and unsafe learning environments. In 1996, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that poor conditions existed in many rural areas; one out of every two rural schools had at least one inadequate structural or mechanical feature (Lawrence). In these situations where regular school attendance is rare, a low population contributes to the problem. In other locations, large numbers are often the cause of low attendance rates.

Due to population growth, many urban schools have expanded their boundaries making school transportation more complicated. “For over 50 years the U.S. has been shifting away from small, neighborhood schools to larger schools in lower density areas. Rates of children walking and biking to school have declined significantly over this period” (Schlossberg). There is evidence to prove that the distance to and from school contributes a child’s attendance, or lack thereof. In a study done investigating the relation between location (distance) and school attendance in Mali, about half the villages reported that the school was too far away, causing students not to enroll (Birdsall).

There is still speculation as to whether primary schools are more accessible in rural or urban areas because situations differ depending on geographic location. In a study done examining the correlation between location and school attendance in Argentina and Panama, researchers found that urban residence was positively correlated with school attendance (De Vos), but another study in a Louisiana school district found that schools with the lowest attendance rates were in metropolitan areas (Moonie).

More research needs to be done to determine geography’s specific effects on attendance, but no matter where you live, there is evidence that location will contribute to a child’s access and attendance to education.


Gender contributes to a child's lack of access and attendance to education. Although it may not be as an obvious a problem today, gender equality in education has been an issue for a long time. Many investments in girls' education in the 1900s addressed the widespread lack of access to primary education in developing countries (Dowd).

There is currently a gender discrepancy in education. In 25 countries the proportion of boys enrolling in secondary school is higher than girls by 10% or more, and in five; India, Nepal, Togo, Turkey and Yemen, the gap exceeds 20%. Enrollment is low for both boys and girls in sub-Saharan Africa, with rates of just 27% and 22%. Girls trail respectively behind (Douglas). It is generally believed that girls are often discouraged from attending primary schooling, especially in less developed countries for religious and cultural reasons, but there is little evidence available to support this association. However, there is evidence to prove that the disparity of gender in education is real. Today some 78% of girls drop out of school, compared with 48% of boys (Douglas). A child’s gender continues to contribute to access and attendance today.


Costs contribute to a child’s lack of access and attendance to primary education. High opportunity costs are often influential in the decision to attend school. For example; an estimated 121 million children of primary-school age are being kept out of school to work in the fields or at home (UNICEF). For many families in developing countries the economic benefits of no primary schooling are enough to offset the opportunity cost of attending.

Besides the opportunity costs associated with education, school fees can be very expensive, especially for poor households. In rural China, families dedicate as much as a third of their income to school fees (Peverly). Sometimes, the cost gets too expensive and families can’t support their children’s education anymore, although the statistics disagree. "China has 108.6 million primary school students, with a 1 percent dropout rate, but experts doubt these figures because the dropout rates in rural areas appear much higher" (Peverly).

Although the relationship between school fees and attendance still isn’t perfectly clear (Peverly), there is evidence to prove that cost is a factor that contributes to a child’s access and attendance to primary education.


In developing countries throughout the world the educational context is characterized not by monolingual settings, but rather multilingual situations. Often children are asked to enroll in a primary school where the Medium of Instruction (MI) is not her home language, but rather the language of the government, or another dominant society [1][2][3][4]. Studies throughout the world demonstrate the importance of the MI in determining a child's educational attainment. According to Mehrotra (1988) "In a situation where the parents are illiterate..., if the medium of instruction in school is a language that is not spoken at home the problems of learning in an environment characterized by poverty are compounded, and the chances of drop-out increase correspondingly. In this context, the experience of the high- achievers has been unequivocal: the mother tongue was used as the medium of instruction at the primary level in all cases. ... There is much research which shows that students learn to read more quickly when taught in their mother tongue. Second, students who have learned to read in their mother tongue learn to read in a second language more quickly than do those who are first taught to read in the second language. Third, in terms of academic learning skills as well, students taught to read in their mother tongue acquire such skills more quickly". (See also Multilingual Education)

Education and global health

Education is a crucial factor in ending global poverty. With education, employment opportunities are broadened, income levels are increased and maternal and child health is improved.

In areas where access, attendance and quality of education have seen improvements, there has also been a slow in the spread of HIV/AIDS and an increase in the healthiness of the community in general. In fact, children of educated mothers are 50% more likely to live past the age of five. Not only does education improve individual and familial health, but it also improves the health of a community. In countries with solid education systems in place, there are lower crime rates, greater economic growth and improved social services.

School feeding programs

“There are approximately 300 million chronically hungry children in the world. One hundred million of them do not attend school, and two thirds of those not attending school are girls. World Food Programme's school feeding formula is simple: food attracts hungry children to school. An education broadens their options, helping to lift them out of poverty.” –World Food Programme

One successful method to ensuring that children attend school on a regular basis is through school feeding programs. Many different organizations fund school feeding programs, among them the World Food Programme and the World Bank. The idea of a school feeding program is that children are provided with meals at school with the expectation that they will attend school regularly. School feeding programs have proven a huge success because not only do the attendance rates increase, but in areas where food is scarce and malnutrition is extensive, the food that children are receiving at school can prove to be a critical source of nutrition. School meals have led to improved concentration and performance of children in school. Another aspect of school feeding programs is take home rations. When economic reasons, the need to care for the elderly or a family member suffering from HIV, or cultural beliefs keep a parent from sending their child (especially a female child) to school, these take home rations provide incentives to sending their children to school rather than to work

Current Efforts

Global Campaign for Education

This organization promotes education as a basic human right. It motivates people and groups to put public pressure on governments and the international community in order to assure that all children are provided with free, compulsory public education. It brings together major NGOs and Teachers Unions in over 120 countries to work in solidarity towards their vision of universal primary education. [5]

Right to Education Project,

The Right to Education Project aims to promote social mobilisation and legal accountability, looking to focus on the legal challenges to the right to education. To ensure continued relevance and engagement with activists and the academic community the Project also undertakes comparative research to advance an understanding of the right to education.


UNICEF believes that in treating education as a basic human right, it will address the basic inequalities in our society, especially gender inequalities. It focuses on the most disadvantaged children through a range of innovative programs and initiatives. In working with local, national and international partners, UNICEF’s work is contributing to the realization of the 2nd millennium development goal by 2015.

Oxfam International

This organization is a confederation of 12 organizations that are dedicated to reducing poverty and eliminating injustices in the world. Oxfam works on a grassroots level in countries around the world to ensure that all people have access to the basic human rights, including education.

Save the Children

This organization advocates education as a way for individuals to escape poverty. They are running a campaign entitled “Rewrite the Future” to encouraging American citizens, in positions of power and wealth, to take action against the injustices in education systems around the world. Save the Children also operates education programs in 30 countries all over the world.

Peace Corps

This United States government organization has volunteers on the ground in 75 countries. Many of the volunteers are working as teachers in rural areas or working to promote and improve access to education in the areas in which they are stationed.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO works to improve education through projects, advice, capacity-building and networking. UNESCO’s Education for All Campaign by 2015 is the driving force in UNESCO’s work in the field of education at the moment.

World Bank

This organization provides financial and technical assistance to developing countries. Loans and grants from the World Bank provide much of the funding for educational projects around the world, including but not limited to school feeding programs.

Child Aid

Child Aid conducts school- and library-based reading programs in over 50 indigenous villages in Guatemala, where literacy rates are lower than anywhere in Latin America. Through its Reading for Life program it trains teachers and librarians, creates and improves community libraries and delivers tens of thousands of children's books annually.

World Food Program

This organization provides food relief in areas that need it most and is one of the major funders of school feeding programs.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

This organization runs a campaign entitled Education for Rural People in which they work to ensure education for rural people as the key to reduction of poverty, food security and sustainable development.

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

This organization is a hub for organizations committed to ending vitamin and mineral deficiencies. GAIN works with other international organizations, governments and the private sector to implement large-scale food fortification programs as well as targeted ones including school feeding projects aimed at the most at risk of malnutrition. Home Page

Fast Track Initiative (FTI)

The Fast Track Initiative (FTI) was launched in 2002. It was designed as a major initiative to help countries achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015. It was endorsed by the Development Committee of the World Bank as a 'process that would provide quick and incremental technical and financial support to countries that have policies but are not on track to attain Universal Primary Completion by 2015' (World Bank Development Committee, 2003)

Building Tomorrow

This Indianapolis, IN based social-profit empowers young people to support their peers in sub-Saharan Africa by raising funds and awareness for school infrastructure projects. They have built seven primary schools in Uganda since their inception in 2005 and are working to support the UN Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education.

Education in Cambodia

Since the Khmer Rouge eliminated a large percentage of educated Cambodians, Cambodia has been lacking educated resources leading to a lower educational level.

In the United States

Teach for America

The mission of Teach for America is to address the inadequacies in the United States education system by placing highly qualified college graduates into under resourced schools for a two-year period in an attempt transform these leaders into lifelong advocates of education reform in the United States.

Our Education

This is a campaign to empower young people in the United States to stand up and speak out against the inadequacies in the United States education system and to demand change through political activism.

Breakthrough Collaborative

This organization empowers high potential middle school students from lower income communities to excel in school and at the same time inspires motivated high school and college students to pursue careers in education. It is a six week summer enrichment program where “students teach students” run in more than 30 sites all over the United States.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Liesbet Steer and Geraldine Baudienville 2010. What drives donor financing of basic education? London: Overseas Development Institute.
  • Birdsall, Nancy; Orivel, Francois. Demand for Primary Schooling in Rural Mali:Should User Fees Be Increased? V4 n3 (Dec. 1996): 279-96. EBSCOhost. 27 Nov. 2006. [6]
  • Cohn, Elchanan; Johnson, Eric. Class Attendance and Performance in Principles of Economics. V14 n2 (June 2006): 211-233. EBSCOhost. 27 Nov. 2006.[7]
  • Douglas A. Sylva. The United Nations Children’s Fund: Women or Children First? Diss. Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, 2003. New York, New York, 2003.
  • De Vos, Susan. Family Structure and School Attendance Among Children 13-16 in Argentina and Panama. V32 n1 (Winter 2001): 99-115. EBSCOhost. 27 Nov. 2006.[8]
  • Dowd, Amy Jo; Greer, Heather. Girls' Education: Community Approaches to Access and Quality. Strong Beginnings. Westport: Save the Children Federation, Inc., 2001.
  • FAO Rural Youth Development. Education for Rural People. 2002. [9]
  • Geissinger, Helen. “Girls' Access to Education in a Developing Country.” International Review of Education. V43 n5-6 (1999): 423-38. EBSCOhost. 15 Nov. 2006 [10]
  • Higher learning = Higher Earning: What You Need to Know About College and Careers. Center on Education Policy and American Youth Policy Forum. Washington, DC. September 2001. Nov. 26, 2006.[11]
  • Kawada, Eijiro. Eatonville Schools to Try Busing. The News Tribune. Tacoma, WA. May 30, 2005. Nov. 27, 2006. [12]
  • Lawrence, Barbara K. Save a Penny, Lose a School: The Real Cost of Deferred Maintenance. Diss. Rural School and Community Trust, 2003.
  • Malone, Susan. 2006. "Bridging languages in education". id21 insights. Available online at [13]
  • Mehrotra, S. (1998): Education for All: Policy Lessons From High-Achieving Countries:

UNICEF Staff Working Papers, New York, UNICEF.

  • Minneapolis Public Schools. Attendance Matters! 14 Oct. 2005 [14]
  • Moonie, Sheniz A; Sterling, David A; Figgs, Larry; Castro, Mario. Asthma Status and Severity Affects Missed School Days. V76 n1 (Jan. 2006): 18-24. EBSCOhost. 27 Nov. 2006. [15]
  • New Ulm Sr. High School Report Card 2005.[16]
  • Peverly, Stephen T. “Moving past cultural homogeneity: Suggestions for comparisons of students' educational outcomes in the United States and China.” Psychology in the Schools. V42 n3 (Mar. 2005): 241-249. EBSCOhost. 13 Nov. 2006 [17]
  • Postiglione, Gerard; Jiao, Ben; Gyatso, Sonam. ”Household Perspectives on School Attendance in Rural Tibet.” Educational Review. v58 n3 Aug. 2006: 317-337. EBSCOhost. 14 Nov. 2006.[18]
  • Schlossberg, Marc; Greene, Jessica; Phillips, Page Paulsen; Johnson, Bethany; Parker, Bob. “School Trips: Effects of Urban From and Distance on Travel Mode.” Journal of the American Planning Association v72 n3 (summer 2006): 337-346. EBSCOhost. 15 Nov. 2006 [19]
  • “UNICEF gloomy on child development goals. “ Lancet v362 n9400 (13 Dec. 2003): 1986-1986. EBSCOhost. 15 Nov. 2006 [20]
  • UNESCO. 2003. Education in a multilingual world. Available online here.
  • UNESCO. 2005. First Language First: community based literacy programmes for minority language contexts in Asia. Available online here.
  • Walter, Steven. 2000. Explaining Multilingual Education:. Information on Some Tough Questions, University of North Dakota Working Papers in Linguistics. Available online here.

External links

  • "Educate a Woman, You Educate a Nation" - South Africa Aims to Improve its Education for Girls WNN - Women News Network. Aug. 28, 2007. Lys Anzia
  • Right to Education Project
  • (PDF)UN Millennium Project
  • [21]
  • CRIN
  • and health
  • World Bank
  • FAO
  • Gain Health
  • Universal Primary Education Goal Tracker
  • Time for School An ongoing PBS documentary series that follows 7 children from 7 countries who are struggling to achieve a basic education. The series continues through 2015, the U.N.’s target date for achieving universal education (MDG #2).
  • Fast Track Initiative - Education for All
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